CINCINNATI - As nearly 4,000 law enforcement officials from across the nation gathered in Cincinnati Monday, one of the nation's top security officials told them they are a critical part of spotting and stopping terrorist attacks.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made the remarks in the keynote speech at the National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Biennial Conference and Exposition.
Napolitano spoke shortly after the convention's opening ceremonies at 9 a.m.
"You are really the faces of Homeland Security," Napolitano told the crowd.
Local law enforcement agencies are in best position to first recognize the signs of a potential terror attack, she added.
"We can't do all of this work alone," Napolitano said. "We have made it a priority at the department of Homeland Security to deepen our partnership with law enforcement on every level."
Part of that relationship is the creation of "fusion centers" in 2003. The information sharing hubs are located in major cities across the nation, and are designed to promote data sharing at the federal level between agencies like the CIA, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice with state and local agencies.
The American Civil Liberties Union has raised concerns about the fusion centers. The multi-jurisdictional spying centers lacked clear guidelines or sufficient oversight, and posed a risk to Americans’ civil liberties, the ACLU has said.
But Napolitano believes adequate surveillance of potential threats can be carried out while also protecting the "civil rights, civil liberties and privacy" of U.S. citizens.
Another part of DHS' mission is to stop illegal immigration, the secretary said. Illegal immigration attempts at U.S. borders is at a 40-year low, Napolitano said.
"We have made progress... but we must continue to secure the borders of the United States," she said.
Interim Cincinnati Police Chief Paul Humphries, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neill and the leader of the Ohio FOP also spoke during the opening ceremony.
Brown lauded the work of the FOP during his speech and highlighted the organization’s help in defeating a collective bargaining bill in Ohio in 2011.
Humphries praised Cincinnati FOP leader Kathy Harrell and other local leaders.
“They are street cops. They are real cops and they are out here for you,” Humphries said.
The interim chief also noted that being a police office "is the most noble profession in the world"
The conference is scheduled to run all this week.
“The biennial conference is the governing conference of the Fraternal Order of Police, and our proceedings here will set the agenda for the next two years,” Chuck Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement.
“This year’s conference marks our 98th year as an organization. With 325,000 members nationally, it is extremely important for us to come together for this week in Cincinnati to conduct the business of the national body, and I look forward to a successful conference.”
Conference programming will include business sessions for attendees, the EXPO 2013 tradeshow and elections of new organizational leadership. Programming also features discussions on tactics in traffic to critical-incident stress management.
The FOP convention is expected to have a $4.5 million economic impact, the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitor’s Bureau estimated.
Napolitano, 55, has been DHS secretary since 2009. She will step down at month's end to become president of the University of California system.
In 2006, Napolitano was named as one of "8 in '08," a group of 8 women who might run for presidency in 2008 by a female advocacy group
Napolitano has been both governor of Arizona (2003-09) & attorney general of that state (1999-2002).